No Early End To Decline In West Indies Cricket
To see the West Indies being roundly thrashed repeatedly is a pitiable sight
Once upon a time there was an international cricket team that was rated as arguably the greatest of all time. They had an array of stroke playing batsmen, a fearsome quartet of pace bowlers, acrobatic fields men and a swagger in their attitude that could intimidate their opponents. For about 15 years from 1980 they ran roughshod over every team, winning matches with uncanny ease, finishing them with a day or two to spare, quite often emerging victorious by an innings and plenty. They set all sorts of world records the most notable being eleven successive victories and remaining unbeaten for 27 Tests besides notching up two consecutive 5-0 'blackwashes’ of England.
Yes, the West Indies dominated the game like no other team before it. Older players retired but the replacements were just as effective, brilliant or dynamic and the reign at the top continued. There seemed no end to their dominance but in 1995 the impregnable ''wall’’ finally crashed. Touring the Caribbean that year the Australians won the four match series 2-1 and after 15 years and 29 series world cricket’s longest lasting dynasty was overthrown. The previous occasion that the West Indies lost a series was in March 1980 when they had gone down narrowly in New Zealand. Since then they had won 20 and drawn nine (including two one-off Tests).
To see the West Indies being roundly thrashed repeatedly these days is a pitiable sight particularly to those who remember the all conquering team that pervaded the cricketing world for a decade and a half. What a marvelous sight they presented for the spectators and the TV audience – if not the opponents! For starters there was this batting line-up that started with Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes and continued with the likes of Vivian Richards, Clive Lloyd, Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharran, Richie Richardson, Larry Gomes, Carl Hooper and Brian Lara. Behind the stumps were brilliant wicket keepers like Deryck Murray and Jeff Dujon. And as for the awesome fast bowlers, they could take the pick from Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Malcolm Marshall, Ian Bishop, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose.
Match after match, series after series, year after year, the West Indies simply mowed down all opposition and things were becoming predictable, even monotonous. But if their rise and the manner in which they stayed at the top for so long was spectacular what has happened in the last 20 years – and the last decade in particular - has been really pathetic. Initially the downfall was steady but in the new millennium the slide has been steep. Opponents have toyed with them just as they toyed with teams during the golden period. They have been beaten at home and away, have suffered the kind of heavy defeats they used to hand out to opponents and have had to endure clean sweep reverses including 5-0 defeats against Australia and South Africa).
When will the decline in West Indian cricket come to a halt? When will cricket lovers see at least a semblance of the great days of the 80s and early 90s? At the moment they occupy the No 8 spot in the ICC rankings. They have suffered one ignominious defeat after another but the nadir has to be losing both the Tests against Bangladesh in 2009 at home. India have won three successive Test series in the Caribbean in 2006, 2011 and 2016 while their record against England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka has been abysmal. About the only team they have got the better of is Zimbabwe.
While many factors may have been responsible for the decline in West Indian cricket perhaps the chief reason is that they have not been able to put their best team on the field. Some of the leading players prefer playing in the lucrative T-20 circuit and there have been differences between the players and the West Indian Board on contractual issues. Symbolizing this lacuna is Chris Gayle who last played a Test in 2014 though he turns up for the West Indies in limited overs cricket besides of course playing for franchisees in the T-20 league all over the world.
But even if some of the leading players appear in the Tests it is difficult to see any resurgence in West Indies cricket. There may be some improvement but they will continue to be whipping boys of international cricket. The recent Test series in India only confirmed this belief. The great days of the 80s will just continue to be a memory for those of us fortunate to be around at the time.
It cannot be good for world cricket if the West Indies who were the game’s superpowers for so long should come down to a level where they are being mocked at. The irrepressible Geoff Boycott put it in his own inimitable manner some years ago after England completed a 4-0 clean sweep over them. ''If my mum was alive she could captain England to play West Indies. Hopeless aren’t they?’’ It isn’t nice that such things are said about once colourful cricketers who brought such joy and excitement to the game with their dynamic qualities. It would be great if the West Indies could recover their lost glory but at the moment this appears to be a pipe dream.